Midnight Mass

Behind the Scenes

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Production Notes

The script for Midnight Mass came about when director Samuel Marlow was commissioned to write a contribution to a Literary Advent Calendar in 2013. Not wanting to write a prose piece, Sam asked if he could write a screenplay for the 1,000 word piece in stead.

The organisers were excited at the prospect and agreed.

After completing Transmission Interrupted in the summer of 2014, Sam was looking for his next project, and found two that were Christmas-themed. He decided to shoot and release both in time for Christmas 2014.

Pre-production started in August, with Sam revisiting the script and breaking it down to see what would be involved. As with previous productions, one of the hardest things would be the casting of the two young leads. Luckily, Sam was able to call on his contacts at Trinity Youth Theatre Company where he found Juliette Finn and Ollie Bignell. He had worked with Juliette previously on an NT Connections show, as well as Trinity's Christmas 2012 production of Peter Pan, and knew Ollie from work he had done with the Youth Theatre in the past.

Knowing he wanted a younger actor and a more dynamic vicar than the stock character of the elderly priest, Sam approached Kris Robertson who he has previously seen in an RSC Open Staged production of King Lear as the treacherous Edmund.

The final piece of the puzzle was more difficult. Having cast the role of Danny younger, with 15-year-old Ollie playing a role written for a 19-year-old, and his new vicar, the original role of Allison, written as a bustling woman in her 60s now needed revisiting.

Sam spoke to Alison Seddon about the part, explaining he was now looking for someone who is less bustling and more cutting compared to the vicar's well-intentioned but ultimately struggling character.

With the help of the Reverend Caroline Glass Gower at St Luke's Church in Tunbridge Wells, the short was shot in two stages, blacking out the windows for the night-time interiors with all the cast, and a second pick-up shoot at night with only Kris and Alison on site.

Post-production was put on hold while Sam worked on his second Christmas Special, Midnight Blue, and Trinity Theatre's critically acclaimed production of A Christmas Carol. Returning to it three weeks after shooting, Midnight Mass premiered online on 17th December 2014.

Director's Statement

My abiding memory of the shoot was chasing a location. As always seems to be the case, there was so much time at the outset, that when I started looking it felt as though there was all the time in the world. I quickly found a location I liked the look of in the centre of my base-town Tunbridge Wells and, even better, had a friend who knew the priest there. A couple of months from the shooting date, she made first contact on my behalf.

With no answer days turned to weeks and I began to worry so started calling and leaving messages. I always find judging the right amount of nagging difficult as the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but can quickly become a nuisance. I managed to speak to two church wardens and several other people over a period of three weeks who all seemed positive about the prospect of letting me borrow their church, but all of whom ultimately directed me to the priest, who remained elusive.

Finally, three weeks before we were due to shoot, I managed to speak to someone who informed me that the man in question was now out of the country and wouldn't be back until three days before principle photography. I was now a little panicked. I assumed the process of getting permission would be quite drawn out and, even if the ultimate decision was "Yes", didn't feel I could cut it so fine.

I started quickly looking through my other options. Although there are plenty of churches in the area, finding one of the right sort of style was harder than I expected. My second choice got back to me after several days to say they had a policy of not letting camera crews into the church for anything other than documentary purposes. This only left two possible options, neither of which I had seen the interiors of, but looked the right sort of style from the outside.

By now, I was preparing the cast for the possibility that we may have to reschedule, but with Juliette's rehearsals for A Christmas Carol, Ollie's gymnastics competition and Kris's wife changing jobs, the original date of 23rd November seemed to be the only one everyone would be available for until the second week of December. With my own diary filling up for December, I felt this would not allow enough time to get the short out before Christmas. An ultimate fail.

I managed to speak to the vicars at both churches, apologetically explain my predicament, and throw myself on their mercy. To my amazement, both were instantly open to the proposition, and I was on my way to scout St Luke's 20 minutes later.

Because of my own naivety and ignorance, I had written the script in such a way to make use of certain comings and goings through various doors in a vestry-style room, without being really familiar about the interior layout of such a room. This was one of the reasons finding appropriate locations had yielded such a short list to begin with.

Luckily, the vestry at St Luke's was a large room with several doors in and out, and a beautiful churchy look. The Reverend Caroline was unbelievably helpful, and having only a week's notice didn't put her off. I said I would like to see the other location to be sure, but as far as I was concerned St Luke's was ideal.

While a beautiful building, the alternative was far too small to be practical and did not have enough doors in and out for me to make the action work, so St Luke's became our location. The discovery that the short's star Juliette live within sight of the steeple made it seem meant-to-be.

At a time when I had got pretty stressed, it was encouraging to find there are plenty of people in the world who will bend over backwards to help a complete stranger out of a largely self-inflicted problem!